StorkNet interview with
Anne Smith, IBCLC
International Board Certified Lactation Consultant

Be sure to visit Anne Smith's website for more breastfeeding information and wonderful products. Also, read her articles on StorkNet.

Q's and A's:

WILL EARLY SELF-WEANING HAPPEN WITH MY NEXT BABY?

Michelle: My son self weaned when he was four months old. He would cry and scream at the breast refusing to nurse. I tried everything under the sun to get him to start nursing again, but he wouldn't. After a week I gave in and started feeding him formula since he had to eat. I even tried re-lactating a few months later to see if he was interested and he wasn't. I didn't have a good pump then, I don't know if that would have helped.

I am currently 12 weeks pregnant and want to nurse this one too. I am afraid that what happened with my son may happen again. What can I do to prevent this? I really would like to nurse this one for a year or more.

Anne: Michelle, I'm sure that you won't have the same problems with your next baby. It must have been such a difficult experience for you! Having a baby that won't nurse has got to be one of the most frustrating experiences a new mother can go through. While it's not uncommon to have an older baby who goes on a "nursing strike" for a few days, it is very unusual for a baby as young as four months to self-wean. Without knowing the history and specifics of your individual situation, I can't tell you what the problem was. Given my experience, babies this young who refuse the breast usually do so because of a medical problem, most commonly thrush. Babies can have discomfort from thrush in their mouths even if you can't see any white patches. The yeast infection can make them refuse to nurse because in order to breastfeed effectively, they have to move their tongues back and forth to strip the pockets of milk behind the areola. They will usually take a bottle just fine because they don't have to move their tongues much at all in order to drink from a bottle.

That's just a theory, and I have no idea whether that was your first baby's problem, but it is one possible explanation. The fact that you tried to re-lactate shows a very high level of commitment to breastfeeding, and if you had had a good pump it would have probably made a big difference. Babies older than six months are often very difficult to persuade to take the breast again, especially after a period of extended bottle-feeding. If you are going to get them to nurse again, it is very important to have a good supply built up. Otherwise you have a very hard time convincing them to nurse - they are impatient, easily distracted, and used to having a steady flow of milk from the bottle without really having to work at it.

If your new baby does go on a nursing strike (and it's very unlikely), then you need to get a good pump to maintain your supply while you work on figuring out what the problem is and resolving it.

Make sure that you have a support system in place so that you have someone you can call for help immediately if you do develop any breastfeeding problems. Find out if there is a La Leche League group in your area (call 1-800-LALECHE or go to lalecheleague.org) and see if there are any IBCLCs (International Board Certified Lactation Consultants in your city. You can contact ILCA (International Lactation Consultant Association) at ilca.org or 312-541-1710 or by e-mail at ilca@erols.com). You can ask your obstetrician or pediatrician for referrals on local lactation resources, too. Just make sure you have someone knowledgeable and supportive that you can call, and don't be afraid to ask for help at the first sign of trouble, before little problems turn into big ones.

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